A week to go till Zipangu Fest gets fully underway, and I have it on good authority (i.e. the Genesis Cinema’s box office) that tickets are selling fast for all screenings. We’ll be making an official announcement about the guests in the next day or two, but I can reveal now that the first is actually arriving later today – Takuro Kochi, sound engineer for Naoyuki Niiya’s Man-eater Mountain, part of the Ero Guro Anime programme. We’re heading down together to introduce the screening at the Cube in Bristol this Friday, held as part of the Encounters Film Festival, and Kochi will still be around for the London premiere of the film the following week.
I should also remind all those in Bristol that the Ero Guro programme is going to be followed by a late night double bill of pink films directed by Yojiro Takita, last year’s recipient of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for the melodrama Departures. Both films are part of Takita’s celebrated Train Pervert or Molester Train series from the 1980s, which I write about at some length in Behind the Pink Curtain, and are being presented in association with the US-distriburor Pink Eiga, who’ve released them on DVD. Details about Sexy Time Trip Ninja can be found on their website here and, for Groper Train: Search for the Black Pearl, here.
Naoyuki Niiya's Man-eater Mountain. Definitely not one for the kids!
But back to the animation. I first caught Man-eater Mountain earlier this year when I was Yubari Film Festival (see my Yubari report from March), and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I have honestly never seen anything like it before. This isn’t animation as such, as the individual scenes don’t actually move. Director Niiya himself describes it more accurately as a kami-shibai or paper theatre animation, after the form of sideshow story-telling popular with children in the prewar period, although I’d have to say, I personally wouldn’t show this film to kids, as there’s some pretty strong stuff in here, particularly during the demonic orgy set at the portal to hell during the climax. This is the stuff of a particularly fervid imagination, a heady brew of ancient Japanese folklore, Edogawa Rampo and HP Lovecraft, beautifully illustrated by Niiya, who also performs all the voices of the characters, with the atmospheric soundscape provided by Kochi. Yubari was also responsible for the revival of Midori: The Girl in the Freakshow, a notorious title from the world of underground animation directed by Hiroshi Harada (and reviewed a few years back on Midnight Eye by Johannes Schonherr). Powerful stuff too, I thought, so this is why you’re seeing a selection of both Niiya and Harada’s quite unforgettable films at this years Zipangu.
Midori: The Girl in the Freakshow - Classic ero guro from Hiroshi Harada.
Such underground indie titles point to the fact, as I often like to point out, that there is a whole lot more to Japanese animation than anime, with its parade of magic girls, pocket monsters, cyborgs and slathering tentacular beasts. Since at least the beginning of the postwar period, there have been a host of individuals exploring the full expressive potential of the animated medium, operating outside of the commercial industry and pushing its artistic limits to the extreme – figures such as Kihachiro Kawamoto, Tadanari Okamoto, Koji Yamamura, Tomoyasu Murata and Kunio Kato, to name but a few. Its pretty difficult for most of us to even find out about the work of most of these practitioners of what is sometimes referred to in Japan as “Art Animation”, a slightly misleading term for what is essentially independent animation. The best place to look is Cathy Munro Hoates wonderful Nishikata Film Review blog – an occasional Midnight Eye contributor, Cathy is currently researching a book on this less commercial side to Japanese animation.
Atsushi Wada's In A Pigs Eye, the modern face of Japanese indie animation.
That said, the main problem in finding out more about indie animation outside of specialist film festivals is simply down to the limited opportunities to see it, which is why I’m really excited about the new CALF animation label founded this year by Nobuaki Doi, and even more excited that he has agreed to work with us for the first ever Zipangu Fest to present a programme of selected works by the various creative agents assembled beneath his banner. So far CALF has put out DVDs by Mirai Mizue, Atsushi Wada, and the TOCHKA collective, with a release of Kei Oyama’s works planned for next Summer. You can read an interview with him talking about the project with Chris Magee on the Toronto J-Film Powwow website, and purchase all the DVDs in question from the CALF website here or, if you’re in London next week, pick them up from the Zipangu Fest merchandise stall.
Lost Utopia, a typically bizarre work from Mirai Mizue.
Of the three disks out so far, my favourite is the one dedicated to Mirai Mizue, whose mesmerising biomorphic patterns reject narrative in favour of colour and movement for the sake of movement. As such, they are rather hard to describe in words, but imagine perhaps, a head-trip movie constructed by Benoit Manderlbrot out of Paisley fabric and pulsating amoebic blobs. The most amazing thing is that each highly detailed frame of these works is actually hand-drawn, not created by computer, even the clear lines and solid blocks of more obviously geometric works such as Modern. What I love most about these is that it is quite clear that Mizue understands how image and sound work together perfectly. The synaesthesic qualities of his work are best encapsulated by Trip!-Trap!, with its jazzy score by Alice Nakamura, and Fantastic Cell, an earlier work realised in 2003 – this latter is unfortunately presented silently, due to rights issues surrounding its use of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite, although I do remember finding it online somewhere in its entirety a while back. It comes as no surprise to hear Mizue cite Juan Miro as an influence in the fascinating on-disk interview, but the deliciously funny Devour Dinner, in which various biomorphic critters munch upon one another, also reminded me of another painter, the Surrealist artist Yves Tanguy.
Mirai's wonderful Devour Dinner, one of the many films featured on the CALF DVD release.
Time prevents me from going into more detail about the other two disks at the moment, though I’d hate to suggest that they’re in any way less interesting than Mirai’s and I will endevour to write something about them in the not so distant future, once life has calmed down a bit after Zipangu Fest. All I’ll say now is that I can guarantee all of these films are going to look absolutely fab on the big screen, so definitely one of the hot tickets as far as I’m concerned.
Eye candy - Mirai's Jam is definitely one for the big screen.
Check out the Zipangu Fest website for more details on the Ero Guro programmes at Bristol on Friday 19th and London on Friday 26th, and for Beyond Anime: CALF Animation on Sunday 28th.